Topic 52B – The historic evolution of the united states: From a. Lincoln to f.d. Roosevelt

Topic 52B – The historic evolution of the united states: From a. Lincoln to f.d. Roosevelt



2.1 Early colonial period to the War of Independence (1607-1776)

2.2 The declaration of the Independence (1776)

2.3 The birth of a nation

2.4 American imperialism and the Monroe doctrine

2.5 Westward expansion

2.6 Slavery and the Civil War













2.1 Early colonial period to the War of Independence (1607-1776)

The United States of America was originally inhabited by Indians, but with the coming of Europeans (particularly the Spanish, French, and British) and the Africans they introduced as slaves, the continent underwent a profound transformation. The United States of America is a federal republic composed of 50 states. The first colonists from Britain settled on the East coast of America and formed the thirteen original states of the United States. The Southern states (Virginia, Maryland) were dominated by the large plantation owners who supported slavery and were opposed to the Northern states of New England that were mainly colonised by Puritan merchants.

Puritanism is a religious reform movement of the late 16th and 17th centuries which sought to “purify” the Church of England from remnants of Roman Catholic “popery” in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Puritanism may be defined primarily by the intensity of the religious experience that it fostered. Puritans believed in the doctrine of predestination inherited from Calvinism to produce a sense of themselves as elect spirits chosen by God, that conversion was necessary to redeem one from one’s sinful condition, and that the Holy Spirit rather than reason was the energising instrument of salvation. They sought through church reform to make their lifestyle the pattern for the whole nation. Their efforts to transform the nation led to civil war in England. After Cromwell’s death in 1658, English Puritanism entered a period known as the Great Persecution and to the founding of Puritan colonies in America, particularly in New England with the Massachusetts Bay colony.

2.2 The declaration of the Independence (1776)

On July 4th 1776 the original 13 colonies of North America declared themselves independent of the British Crown due to economic, political and legal reasons. The British had given the monopoly of the trade of certain products to British companies (Navigation Act), making it likely that the American merchants would face bankruptcy. Moreover, several Acts of Parliament imposed heavy taxes (Stamp Act and Tea Act) on the colonies, without the right to representation. This infuriated the colonists and caused rebellion for they felt they were being treated as second class citizens who, in spite of heavy taxes to the British Crown, did not enjoy equal rights of representation in Parliament.

The colonists refused to pay the taxes and they dumped into the water of a whole cargo of tea that had arrived to Boston harbour. This event known as the Boston Tea Party marked the beginning of the American War of Independence. George III decided to suppress the rebellion by force and Parliament passed the “Intolerable Act”. The result was a closer tie between the thirteen original colonies, and on July 4th 1776 congress proclaimed the independence of the United States from the British Crown. Seven years after the Declaration of Independence, the War of Independence ended with the Treaty of Paris (1783) that recognised the existence of the Federal Republic of the United States.

2.3 The birth of a nation

Once the colonies declared themselves independent, it became necessary to bring the 13 states together to form a country with a common identity and policy. The first attempt to unite them was in 1777 with the Articles of Confederation. Failure to link the states to form a country led to the elaboration of the Constitution of 1787 that guaranteed the people’s rights against any tyrannical power. Thomas Jefferson was primarily responsible for this document influenced by the ideas of the Enlightenment. The application of the Constitution was going to be source of conflict and to bring about the formation of two political tendencies: the Federalists, favouring strong central federal government, and the Republicans, who wanted to preserve strong local government. 1789 George Washington was elected the first President of the United States of America.

2.4 American imperialism and the Monroe doctrine

The Republican Monroe was elected in 1816. His calm and prosperous administration was known as the Era of Good Feelings. The Monroe doctrine defended American neutrality, the United States would not interfere in the internal affairs of or the wars between European countries and in turn opposed European intervention in the American continent. This marked the beginning of American imperialism by establishing an American sphere of influence that was to be termed America’s backyard.

2.5 Westward expansion

George Washington—a renowned hero of the American Revolutionary War, commander and chief of the Continental Army, and president of the Constitutional Convention—became the first President of the United States under the new U.S. Constitution. The Whiskey Rebellion in 1794, when settlers in the Monongahela River valley of western Pennsylvania protested against a federal tax on liquor and distilled drinks, was the first serious test of the federal government.

The Louisiana Purchase, in 1803, gave Western farmers use of the important Mississippi River waterway, removed the French presence from the western border of the United States, and provided U.S. settlers with vast potential for expansion. In response to continued British impressment of American sailors into the British Navy, Madison had the Twelfth United States Congress— led by Southern and Western Jeffersonians — declare war on Britain in 1812. The United States and Britain came to a draw in the War of 1812 after bitter fighting that lasted until January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent, officially ending the war, essentially resulted in the maintenance of the status quo ante bellum; however, crucially for the U.S., the British ended their alliance with the Native Americans. In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the president to negotiate treaties that exchanged Indian tribal lands in the eastern states for lands west of the Mississippi River. This established Andrew Jackson, a military hero and President, as a cunning tyrant in regards to native populations. The act resulted most notably in the forced migration of several native tribes to the West, with several thousand Indians dying en route, and the Creeks’ violent opposition and eventual defeat. The Indian Removal Act also directly caused the ceding of Spanish Florida and subsequently led to the many Seminole Wars.

Mexico refused to accept the annexation of Texas in 1845, and war broke out in 1846. The U.S., using regulars and large numbers of volunteers, defeated Mexico which was badly led, short on resources, and plagued by a divided command. Public sentiment in the U.S. was divided as Whigs and anti-slavery forces opposed the war. The 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo ceded California, New Mexico, and adjacent areas to the United States. In 1850, the issue of slavery in the new territories was settled by the Compromise of 1850 brokered by Whig Henry Clay and Democrat Stephen Douglas.

2.6 Slavery and the Civil War

The underlying problem facing America was the fact that in the early 19th century it was a country, not a nation. The major functions of government, those relating to education, transportation, health, public order, etc., were performed on the state or local level. There was little more than a loose allegiance to the government in Washington, a few national institutions such as churches and political parties, and a shared memory of the Founding Fathers of the republic that tied the country together. Within this loosely structured society every section, every state, every locality, every group could pretty much go its own way.

However, from the very beginning, wide differences in geography, natural resources, and development were obvious from region to region. New England and the Middle Atlantic states were the main centers of finance, commerce, and manufacturing. Principal products included textiles and clothing, lumber, and machinery. Maritime trade flourished. The Southern states were chiefly agricultural, producing tobacco, sugar, and cotton with slave labor. The Middle Western states were agricultural, too, but their grain and meat products came from the hands of free men and women.

A further issue that divided American society was slavery. Though Jefferson had abolished foreign slave trade in 1808 he did not interfere with internal trade. The growing conflict between North and South was heightened by the condemnation of slavery by the newly elected Republican president Abraham Lincoln in 1860, rejected by the Southern states. The abolition of slavery and the hostility towards the nationalising tendencies in American life led to strong feelings of sectional loyalty and the polarisation of American society.

On December 20th of that year South Carolina was the first state to withdraw from the Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. In February 1861, the seven seceding states declared secession and constituted the Confederate States of America, later Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina joined the Confederation. The next four years (1861-1865) the Civil War confronted the forces of the North commanded by General Grant and of the South by General Lee. In 1863, Lincoln abolished slavery and in April 1865 the Southern forces surrendered. Over 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in a war that devastated the economy of the South: plantations were destroyed and fortunes were lost, and deep bitterness and hatred was to last for many years to come. On the other hand, the Union was preserved, the slaves were freed, and Northern prosperity suffered no severe injury. A unified nation with political and religious freedom as well as economic opportunities attracted millions of emigrants from all over Europe and led to a period of prosperity.

Slavery was an issue that divided American society all through the 19th century. Though, in 1808 Jefferson had abolished the foreign slave trade he did not interfere with the internal slave trade itself. The growing conflict between North and South was heightened by the condemnation of slavery by the newly elected Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, in 1860, who was rejected by the Southern states. The abolition of slavery and the hostility towards the growing nationalising tendencies in American life led to strong feelings of sectional loyalty and the polarisation of American society.

On December 20th of that year South Carolina became the first state to withdraw from the Union, followed by Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas. In February 1861, the seven seceding states declare secession and constitute the Confederate States of America, later Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee and North Carolina joined the Confederation. For the next four years (1861-1865) the Civil War confronted the forces of the North commanded by General Grant, and the South by General Lee. In 1863, Lincoln abolished slavery and by April 1865 the Southern forces had surrendered.

Over 600,000 soldiers lost their lives in a war that devastated the economy of the South; plantations were destroyed, fortunes were lost, and the deep bitterness and hatred was to last for many years to come. Lincoln started a plan to reincorporate the southern states to the union under conciliating conditions, but after he was assassinated Johnson’s attempts to carry it out met the opposition his own republican party. Congress sent troops to the South, and during Grant’s presidency the humiliating messures taken against the losers worsened the relations between the North and the South. However, the old aristocracy began to reorganise and they founded secret organisations such as the Ku-Klux-Klan. When the northern troops finally left the South, they recovered the power and discrimination against the blacks was established through segragation, that would last another hundred years.


In American history, the “Gilded Age” refers to major growth in population in the U.S. and wasteful displays of wealth and excessive opulence of America’s upper-class during the post-Civil War and post-Reconstruction era, from the 1870s to 1900. The wealth polarization derived from industrial and population expansion. Industrialization during this era saw unusually rapid growth of railroads, small factories, banks, stores, mines and other enterprises and dramatic expansion into highly fertile western farmlands. Ethnic diversity increased through immigration. Steamship and railroad companies promoted immigration by emphasizing the availability of jobs and farmland. The era overlaps with Reconstruction (which ended in 1877) and includes the Panic of 1873.

The entrepreneurs of the Second Industrial Revolution created industrial towns and cities in the Northeast with new factories, and contributed to the creation of an ethnically diverse industrial working class which produced the wealth owned by the rising super-rich industrialists and financiers such as Cornelius Vanderbilt, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Henry Flagler, and J.P. Morgan. Their critics called them “robber barons“, referring to their use of overpowering and sometimes unethical financial manipulations. There was a small, growing labor union movement, led in part by Samuel Gompers, who created the American Federation of Labor (AFL).

It featured very close contests between the Republicans and Democrats, with occasional third parties. Nearly all the eligible men were political partisans and voter turnout often exceeded 90% in some states.

The wealth of the period is highlighted by the American upper class’s opulent self-indulgence, but also the rise of the American philanthropy (Andrew Carnegie called it the “Gospel of Wealth”) that endowed thousands of colleges, hospitals, museums, academies, schools, opera houses, public libraries, symphony orchestras, and charities. The Beaux-Arts architectural idiom of the era clothed public buildings in Neo-Renaissance architecture.

The end of the Gilded Age coincided with the Panic of 1893, a deep depression. The depression lasted until 1897 and marked a major political realignment in the election of 1896. After that came the Progressive Era. This period overlaps with the nadir of American race relations, during which African Americans lost many of the civil rights obtained during the Reconstruction period. Increased racist violence, as well as exile of African Americans from the Southern states to the Midwest, started as soon as 1879.

The term “Gilded Age” was coined by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner in their book, The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today (1873). The term originates in Shakespeare’s King John (1595): “To gild refined gold, to paint the lily… is wasteful and ridiculous excess.” The Gilded Age, like gilding the lily (which is already beautiful and not in need of further adornment), was excessive and wasteful — it was a period characterized by showy displays of wealth and excessive opulence.

During the era there was a dramatic expansion in agriculture, especially in the Plains states, which attracted large numbers of immigrants from Europe, especially German Americans and Scandinavian Americans. The government issued 160 acre (64 ha) tracts either free or at nominal cost to qualifying persons moving to the west under the Homestead Act. Even larger numbers purchased lands at very low interest from the new railroads, which were trying to create markets. This expansion into the west created a need for workers in the area to build railroads and facilitate trade. The number of farms tripled from 2.0 million in 1860 to 6.0 million in 1905. The number of people living on farms grew from about 10 million in 1860 to 22 million in 1880 to 31 million in 1905. The value of farms soared from $8.0 billion in 1860 to $30 billion in 1906.[1] A few thousand of the Native Americans resisted, notably the Sioux, who were reluctant to settle on reservations.

The Gilded Age was rooted in industrialization, especially heavy industry like factories, railroads and coal mining. During the Gilded Age, American manufacturing production surpassed the combined total of Great Britain, Germany, and France. Railroad mileage tripled between 1860 and 1880, and tripled again by 1920, opening new areas to commercial farming, creating a truly national marketplace and inspiring a boom in coal mining and steel production. The voracious appetite for capital of the great trunk railroads facilitated the consolidation of the nation’s financial market in Wall Street. By 1900, the process of economic concentration had extended into most branches of industry—a few large corporations, called “trusts”, dominated in steel, oil, sugar, meatpacking, and the manufacture of agriculture machinery. Other major components of this infrastructure were the new methods for fabricating steel: the Bessemer and the Siemens steel making processes. The first billion-dollar corporation was United States Steel, formed by financier J. P. Morgan in 1901, who purchased and consolidated steel firms built by Andrew Carnegie and many other entrepreneurs.

Increased mechanization of industry is a major mark of the Gilded Age’s search for cheaper ways to create more product. Frederick Winslow Taylor observed that worker efficiency in steel could be improved through the use of machines to make fewer motions in less time. His redesign increased the speed of factory machines and the productivity of factories while undercutting the need for skilled labor. This mechanization made some factories an assemblage of unskilled laborers performing simple and repetitive tasks under the direction of skilled foremen and engineers. Machine shops grew rapidly, and they comprised highly skilled workers and engineers. Both the number of unskilled and skilled workers increased, as their wage rates grew. Engineering colleges were established to feed the enormous demand for expertise. Railroads invented complex bureaucratic systems, using middle managers, and set up explicit career tracks. They hired young men at age 18-21 and promoted them internally until a man reached the status of locomotive engineer, conductor or station agent at age 40 or so. Career tracks were invented for skilled blue collar jobs and for white collar managers, starting in railroads and expanding into finance, manufacturing and trade. Together with rapid growth of small business, a new middle class was rapidly growing, especially in northern cities.

The United States became a world leader in applied technology. From 1860 to 1890, 500,000 patents were issued for new inventions—over ten times the number issued in the previous seventy years. George Westinghouse invented air brakes for trains (making them both safer and faster). Alexander Graham Bell‘s revolutionary telephone came into use, and Theodore Vail established the American Telephone & Telegraph Company. Thomas A. Edison invented a remarkable number of electrical devices, as well as the integrated power plant capable of lighting multiple buildings simultaneously; he founded General Electric corporation.

Americans’ sense of civic virtue was shocked by the scandals associated with the Reconstruction era, including corrupt state governments, massive fraud in cities controlled by political machines, political payoffs to secure government contracts (especially the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal regarding the financing of the transcontinental railroad), and widespread evidence of government corruption during the Ulysses S. Grant Administration. Led by the Bourbon Democrats, especially Samuel J. Tilden and Grover Cleveland, there was a call for reform, such as Civil Service Reform. More generally, there was a sense that government intervention in the economy resulted in favoritism, bribery, kickbacks, inefficiency, waste and corruption. The Bourbon Democrats led the call for a free market, low tariffs, low taxes, less spending and, in general, a Laissez-Faire (hands-off) government. They also denounced imperialism and overseas expansion. Many business and professional people supported this approach, although most Republicans continued to argue for a high protective tariff to encourage rapid growth of industry and protect America’s high wages against the low wage system in Europe. Labor activists and agrarians expressed the same spirit but focused their attacks on monopolies and railroads as unfair to the little man; they also complained that high tariffs for instance on British steel benefited industrialists like Carnegie more than his employees who even at the time were regarded by many as being pitifully exploited.

In politics, the two parties engaged in very elaborate get-out-the vote campaigns that succeeded in pushing turnout to 80%, 90%, and even higher. It was financed by the “spoils system” whereby the winning party distributed most local, state and national government jobs, and many government contracts, to its loyal supporters. Large cities were dominated by political machines, in which constituents supported a candidate in exchange for anticipated patronage—favors back from the government, once that candidate was elected—and candidates were selected based on their willingness to play along. The best known example of a political machine from this time period is Tammany Hall in New York City, led by Boss Tweed.

Presidential elections between the two major parties (the Republicans and Democrats), were closely contested, and Congress was marked by political stalemate. Mudslinging became an increasingly popular way of gaining advantage at the polls, and Republicans employed an election tactic known as “waving the bloody shirt“. Candidates, especially when combating corruption charges, would remind voters that the Republican Party had saved the nation in the Civil War. During the 1870s, voters were repeatedly reminded that the Democrats had been responsible for the bloody upheaval, an appeal that attracted many Union veterans to the Republican camp. The Republicans consistently carried the North in presidential elections. The South, on the other hand, became the Solid South, nearly always voting Democratic. The political humiliations of Reconstruction were still fresh in many minds. Conversely, the Democrats invoked images of the “lost cause” and the glorious “stars and bars” in much the same way Republicans “waved the bloody shirt”.

Overall, Republican and Democratic political platforms remained remarkably constant during the years before 1900. The negativity and ambiguity of politics began a shift in the press to yellow journalism, in which sensationalism and sentimental stories took as prominent a role as factual news.

Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, and “Commodore” Cornelius Vanderbilt were amongst the most influential industrialists during the Gilded Age. Carnegie was born into a poor Scottish family; at age 14 he became secretary to railroad manager Thomas A. Scott in Pittsburgh. In 1870, Carnegie erected his first blast furnace. Both Carnegie and Rockefeller gave away most of their wealth in large scale philanthropy. Carnegie created the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie Mellon University) to upgrade craftsmen into trained engineers and scientists. Carnegie built hundreds of public libraries and several major research centers and foundations. Rockefeller retired from the oil business in 1897 and devoted the next 40 years of his life to giving away most of his money using systematic philanthropy, especially in the areas of education, medicine and race relations. “Commodore” C. Vanderbilt started out as a poor Staten Island farmer boy, then quickly through his sharp wit and lethal business policies built an enormous fortune in steamships and railroading to become the wealthiest man in the world in his day. His descendants and heirs would become famous for their ability to both increase and spend their wealth, building gigantic and lavish mansions and dominating Gilded Age high society.

During the Gilded Age, approximately 10 million immigrants came to the United States, many in search of religious freedom and greater prosperity. The population surge in major U.S. cities as a result of immigration gave cities an even stronger impact on government, attracting power-hungry politicians and entrepreneurs. Pressuring voters or falsifying ballots was commonplace for politicians, who often sought power only to exploit their constituents. To accommodate the influx of people into the U.S., the federal government built Ellis Island in 1892 near the Statue of Liberty. After 1892, a short physical examination was given; those with contagious diseases were not admitted. Few immigrants went to the poverty-stricken South.

The construction of the Central Pacific railroad in California and Nevada was handled largely by Chinese laborers. In the 1870 census there were 58 Chinese men and 4 women in the entire country; these numbers grew to 100,000 men and 40,000 women in the 1880 census. [2] Labor unions such as the American Federation of Labor strongly opposed the presence of Chinese labor, by reason of both economic competition and race. Immigrants from China were not allowed to become citizens until 1950; however, their children born in the U.S. were full citizens.

Congress banned further Chinese immigration through the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882; the act prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the United States, but some students and businessmen were allowed in. Subsequent to the act, the Chinese population declined to only 37,000 in 1940. Many returned to China (a greater proportion than most other immigrant groups) yet most of them stayed in the United States. Chinese people were unwelcome in many areas, so they resettled in the “Chinatown” districts of large cities.

Modern labor unions emerged during the Civil War era. One of the earlier attempts at a national union was the National Labor Union, formed in Baltimore in 1866. The Knights of Labor had success in the late 1880s but then collapsed. The American Federation of Labor (AFL), a coalition of trades unions, became dominant in the 1890s, under Samuel Gompers.

The Pullman factory in Chicago, with a paternalistic policy of company housing, laid off employees during the Panic of 1893 but did not cut rents, angering workers. Eugene Debs moved onto the scene in 1894, ordering his American Railroad Union (ARU) members to stop handling Pullman rail cars, effectively halting the movement of passenger trains across the U.S. The established railway brotherhoods and the AFL rejected the ARU as dual unionism. President Grover Cleveland secured federal court orders to stop blocking the U.S. mail. Debs refused to obey, federal troops broke the illegal strike, and Debs went to prison for six months. Debs later founded the Socialist Party of America, which advocated a peaceful end to capitalism.


The pressure for new settlements also meant the displacement of the Indians. The last large confrontation took place in 1876 when General Custer’s regiment was defeated by the Indians in the valley of Little Big Horn, Montana. Soon Indian reservations were established and smaller areas of land were given to them, while most land was appropriated by the goverment and given to settlers and speculators.


American Empire is a term relating to the political, economic, and cultural influence of the United States. The concept of an American Empire was first popularized in the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898. The sources and proponents of this concept range from classical Marxist theorists of imperialism as a product of capitalism, to modern liberal theorists opposed to what they take to be aggressive U.S. policy.

It was first widely applied to the US by the American Anti-Imperialist League, founded in 1898 to oppose the Spanish-American War and the subsequent post-war military occupation and brutalities committed by US forces in the Philippines. However, the historians Archibald Paton Thorton and Stuart Creighton Miller argue against the very coherence of the concept. Miller argues that the overuse and abuse of the term “imperialism” makes it nearly meaningless as an analytical concept. Thorton wrote that “imperialism is more often the name of the emotion that reacts to a series of events than a definition of the events themselves. Where colonization finds analysts and analogies, imperialism must contend with crusaders for and against.” Political theorist Michael Walzer argues that the term “hegemony” is better than “empire” to describe the US’ role in the world.

In the presidency of McKinley, which started in 1897, the US entered world politics and started their imperialistic expansion through their first offensive international operation: the war with Spain. The taking off of American imperialism responds to several factors. After the disapearance of the frontier the conviction grew that the US would have to find outlets for an ever-increasing population and agricultural and industrial production. The US had also become a great economic power and nationalistic Americans thought that they had to defend that position through military power. Furthermore, there were also the arguments of the idealists and religious leaders that Americans had a duty to carry their superior culture and Christianity to the backwards countries of the world.

In this background, Cubans were fighting a revolution against Spain. The American press spread exaggerated stories about the attrocities of the Spanish in Cuba. The immediate cause for the declaration of war was the misterious explotion of the Maine in Havanna harbour, and after a brief war Spain left Cuba and ceded the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico to the US. The next step in American imperialism was the building of the Panama Canal. The Canal was important for providing easy access from the Atlantic to the Pacific both for strategic and commercial purposes. As Colombia was slow to co-operate, president Theodore Roosevelt supported a Panamanian revolution to later negotiate directly with the new independent country. American intervention was also frequent in the Caribbean and central American countries through the first three decades of the century.


The early twentieth century inside the country was a period of great growth. The population passed from 76 million in 1900 to almost a hundred before World War I. In the economy there was finalncial and bank consolidation, but there was also action against the trusts during the Roosevelt administration. The trusts were industrial combinations that had achieved a great power through the monopoly of industries such as railroad, beef or tobacco. In the second decade of the century, enacted a reforemer legislation regarding economic and social aspects, reducing tariffs and introducing the first income tax. The democratisation of political structures, both in local and national government enabled the direct election of senators and the vote of women.

The United States was unprepared for its entrance into the First World War. In April 1917, the American Army numbered only 300,000 including all the National Guard units that could be federalized for national service. The Army’s arsenal of war supplies was non-existent and its incursion into Mexico the previous year pointed out the severe deficiencies in its military structure including training, organization, and supply.

When the European continent erupted in conflict in 1914, President Wilson declared America’s neutrality. The President steadfastly maintained his hope of a peaceful solution to the conflict despite the protestations of those (including former president Roosevelt) convinced that events in Europe would inevitably draw America into the war. In 1916, Wilson campaigned for reelection on a peace platform with the slogan “He kept us out of war.”

Events in Europe altered Wilson’s outlook. Germany’s campaign of unrestricted submarine warfare, the loss of American lives on the high seas, the sinking of the Lusitania and other ships and the prospect that Germany would not change her policies compelled a reluctant Wilson to ask Congress for a declaration of war in April 1917. Things were not going well for the Allies at the time. Russia erupted in revolution in March 1917 and would soon be out of the war altogether. Italy suffered a major defeat when the Austrians captured over 275,000 soldiers in the Battle of Caporetto forcing the British and French to divert troops from the Western Front to keep Italy in the war. The situation remained stagnate on the Western Front – and worse. Mutiny spread throughout the French Army raising the fear that her armed forces may collapse from within. In Britain, the German submarine campaign was so successful that predictions foresaw Britain’s collapse within a matter of months.

The Allies looked to America for salvation with the expectation that the industrial strength of the United States would replenish the supply of war material necessary for victory. In most cases these expectations were unrealistic. For example, the US built no more than 800 airplanes prior to 1917, and yet the French premier called on the US to immediately produce 2,000 airplanes per month. Additionally, the Allies expected the United States to provide an unlimited supply of manpower they could absorb into their beleaguered divisions.

Wilson selected General John J. Pershing (called “Black Jack” after he commanded the famous 10th cavalry in he 1890s) to head the American Expeditionary Force. Pershing left for Europe with a mandate from Wilson to cooperate with Allied forces under the following proviso – “that the forces of the United States are a separate and distinct component of the combined forces the identity of which must be preserved.” In other words, there would be no wholesale melding of American soldiers into the British and French armies as the Allied commanders hoped. The United States would fight under its own flag and its own leadership. This proved to be a bone of contention among the Allies for the rest of the war.

With the war over, Americans wished to forget Europe’s troubles and return to “the good old days.” Congress rejected Wilson’s call for participation in the League of Nations. The nation turned inward again. This complacency remained unchallenged until Hitler’s grab for European domination some 20 years later.


Roaring Twenties is a phrase used to describe the 1920s, principally in North America, that emphasizes the period’s social, artistic, and cultural dynamism. Normality returned to politics in the wake of World War I, jazz music blossomed, the flapper redefined modern womanhood, Art Deco peaked, and finally the Wall Street Crash of 1929 served to punctuate the end of the era, as The Great Depression set in. The era was further distinguished by several inventions and discoveries of far-reaching import, unprecedented industrial growth and accelerated consumer demand and aspirations, and significant changes in lifestyle.

The social and societal upheaval known as the Roaring Twenties began in North America and spread to Europe in the aftermath of World War I. Europe spent these years rebuilding and coming to terms with the vast human cost of the conflict. The Government of the United States did little to aid Europe, opting rather for an isolationist stance. By the middle of the decade, economic development soared in Europe, and the Roaring Twenties broke out in Germany (the Weimar Republic), Britain and France, the second half of the decade becoming known as the “Golden Twenties“. In France and Canada, they were also called the “Crazy Years” (Années Folles).

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of discontinuity associated with modernity, a break with traditions. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, movies and radio proliferated ‘modernity’ to a large part of the population. Formal decorative frills were shed in favor of practicality, in architecture as well as in daily life. At the same time, amusement, fun and lightness were cultivated in jazz and dancing, in defiance of the horrors of World War I, which remained present in people’s minds. The period is also often called “The Jazz Age“.

The Roaring Twenties are traditionally viewed as an era of great economic prosperity driven by the introduction of a wide array of new consumer goods. The North American economy, particularly the economy of the US, transitioned from a wartime economy to a peacetime economy; the economy subsequently boomed. The United States augmented its standing as the richest country in the world, its industry aligned to mass production and its society acculturated into consumerism. In Europe, the economy did not start to flourish until 1924.

The Great Depression demarcates the conceptualization of the Roaring Twenties from the 1930s. The hopefulness in the wake of World War I that had initiated the Roaring Twenties gave way to the debilitating economic hardship of the later era.

At the end of World War I, soldiers returned to the United States and Canada with money in their pockets and many new products on the market to spend it on. At first, the recession of wartime production caused a brief but deep recession, known as the Post-WWI recession. Quickly, however, the U.S. and Canadian economies rebounded as returning soldiers re-entered the labor force and factories were retooled to produce consumer goods.

Mass production made technology affordable to the middle class. Many of the devices that became commonplace had been developed before the war but had been unaffordable to most people. The automobile, movie, radio, and chemical industries skyrocketed during the 1920s. Of chief importance was the automobile industry. Before the war, cars were a luxury. In the 1920s, cheap mass-produced vehicles became common throughout the U.S. and Canada.


The Great Depression (also known in the U.K. as the Great Slump) was a dramatic, worldwide economic downturn beginning in some countries as early as 1928. The beginning of the Great Depression in the United States is associated with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929, known as Black Tuesday. The depression had devastating effects in both the industrialized countries and those which exported raw materials. International trade declined sharply, as did personal incomes, tax revenues, prices and profits. Cities all around the world were hit hard, especially those dependent on heavy industry. Construction was virtually halted in many countries. Farming and rural areas suffered as crop prices fell by 40 to 60 percent. Mining and logging areas had perhaps the most striking blow because the demand fell sharply and there were few employment alternatives.

The Great Depression ended at different times in different countries; for subsequent history see Home front during World War II. The majority of countries set up relief programs, and most underwent some sort of political upheaval, pushing them to the left or right. Liberal democracy was weakened and on the defensive, as dictators such as Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini made major gains, which helped set the stage for World War II in 1939.

The Great Depression was not a sudden total collapse. The stock market turned upward in early 1930, returning to early 1929 levels by April, though still almost 30 percent below of peak in September 1929. Together government and business actually spent more in the first half of 1930 than in the corresponding period of the previous year. But consumers, many of whom had suffered severe losses in the stock market the prior year, cut back their expenditures by ten percent, and a severe drought ravaged the agricultural heartland of the USA beginning in the summer of 1930.

In the spring of 1930, credit was ample and available at low rates, but people were reluctant to add new debt by borrowing. By May 1930, auto sales had declined to below the levels of 1928. Prices in general began to decline, but wages held steady in 1930, then began to drop in 1931. Conditions were worst in farming areas where commodity prices plunged, and in mining and logging areas where unemployment was high and there were few other jobs. The decline in the American economy was the motor that pulled down most other countries at first, then internal weaknesses or strengths in each country made conditions worse or better. By late in 1930, a steady decline set in which reached bottom by March 1933.

There were multiple causes for the first downturn in 1929, including the structural weaknesses and specific events that turned it into a major depression and the way in which the downturn spread from country to country. In terms of the 1929 small downturn, historians emphasise structural factors like massive bank failures and the stock market crash, while economists (such as Peter Temin and Barry Eichengreen) point to Britain’s decision to return to the Gold Standard at pre-World War I parities (US$4.86:£1).

Franklin D. Roosevelt, elected in 1932, primarily blamed the excesses of big business for causing an unstable bubble-like economy. Democrats believed the problem was that business had too much power, and the New Deal was intended as a remedy, by empowering labor unions and farmers and by raising taxes on corporate profits. Regulation of the economy was a favorite remedy. Some New Deal regulation (the NRA and AAA) was declared unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Most New Deal regulations were abolished or scaled back in the 1970s and 1980s in a bipartisan wave of deregulation. However the Securities and Exchange Commission, Federal Reserve, and Social Security won widespread support.


World War II, or the Second World War, was a worldwide military conflict, the amalgamation of what had initially been two separate conflicts. The first began in Asia in 1937 as the Second Sino-Japanese War; the other began in Europe in 1939 with the German invasion of Poland. This global conflict split the majority of the world’s nations into two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis Powers. Spanning much of the globe, World War II resulted in the death of over 70 million people, making it the deadliest conflict in human history.

The Allies were victorious, and as a result, the United States and Soviet Union emerged as the world’s two leading superpowers. This set the stage for the Cold War, which lasted for the next 45 years. The United Nations was formed in hopes of preventing another such conflict. The self determination spawned by the war gave rise to decolonization movements in Asia and Africa, while Europe itself began moving toward integration.

After invading mainland China and French Indochina in 1940, Japan was subjected to increasing economic sanctions by the United States, Great Britain and Netherlands. The Japanese were attempting to reduce these sanctions through diplomatic negotiations. These negotitaions did not go well, and in December of 1941 the war expanded once more when Japan launched nearly simultaneous attacks against the United States and British assets in Southeast Asia. Four days after Pearl Harbor, Germany also declared war on the United States. This brought the United States and Japan into the greater conflict and turned the previously separate Asian and European wars into a single global one.

The war finally ended in 1945; in Europe, the Battle of the Bulge, a final German counter-attack in the west, failed, while Soviet forces captured Berlin in May. These losses forced Germany to surrender. The Asian theater saw American forces capturing the Japanese islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa while British forces in South East Asia managed to expel Japanese forces there. Though initially unwilling to surrender, Japan finally capitulated after the Soviet Union invaded Manchukuo and the United States dropped atomic bombs on mainland Japan.

Massive aerial bombing by both Axis and Allied air forces took the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians. Anglo-American bombing of German cities claimed up to 600,000 civilian lives. For the first and so far only time, nuclear weapons were used in combat: two atomic bombs released by the United States over Japan devastated Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki. The number of total casualties in these bombings has been estimated to 200,000.


Finally, we will expose a summary of the American literature from the Lincoln´s to Roosevelt´s times.

After achieving their independence, Americans also started to have their own literature. The first generation of truly American writers was formed by men already born after the Revolution, at the end of the 18th century. The most famous of these writers were William Bryant, known as the poet of the Berkshire hills, Washington Irving and James Finemore Cooper, whose novels about the frontier such as The Last of the Mohicans and the Leather-stocking novels were the first truly American novels and were very popular at the time.

On the other hand, British influence on America continued long after the Independence War. Nothing could change the basic fact that both were two independent nations sharing a single language and a single cultural tradition. American literature is only the continuation of the English genius into new conditions more or less propitious. Thus, there were some writers who preferred to follow the patterns established in the Old Continent, that was inspired on romantic models in the first part of the nineteenth century, that is to say the Transcendentalist School with Emerson, Thoreau and Hawthorne, and realistic and naturalistic models whose main representatives were Stephen Crane and Henry James.

But the 1830’s were the decade of America’s declaration of literary independence and it was the time when the Western frontier humorism became very popular. The works of Artemius Ward, John Phoenix, Bret Hartre and above all of Mark Twain came into the literary scene with an outstanding and explosive vitality.

American Literature kept gaining force and along the 19th century it was consolidated with new figures of international relevance. The next great writer was Edgar Allan Poe, famous for his verse and short stories. With the development of a wider spirit of democracy new writers, such as the transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau, expanded the scope of American literature. By the middle of the century America had a well established tradition, represented by Hawthorne and Melville in prose and by Walt Whitman in poetry. In this theme we are going to deal with Poe, Melville and Whitman. During their lifetimes they were neglected and even rejected by the public and the critics, but they are now considered the best representatives of 19th century short story, novel and poetry respectively.

At the turn of the century the new events that occurred, would mark the beginning of new manifestations in this art. The so-called Jazz Age or Roaring twenties saw the Lost Generation be born. This group of writers came of age during the First World War and most of their production was done between wars. Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald or John Steinbeck showed a general disappointment against established institutions and beliefs. They were marked by the Depression years, but such a hard environment motivated new themes to be explored and new techniques to write with.

The term “Lost Generation” is applied to a group of American writers who were born at the beginning of this century and whose literary offspring coincided with the end of World War I. This term was created by the American writer Gertrud Stein, to refer to refer to the American writers she met in Paris, and it was used for the first time as an epigraph in Heminway’s The Sun also Rises. The Lost Generation includes some of the best known American novelists of the period between the two wars. Besides Heminway it includes Scott Fitzgerald and Dos Passos, while Steinbeck and Faulkner share some characteristics at the same time that they are creators of their own peculiar style. The role of these writers was very important for 20th century literature world-wide and this can be seen for example in the fact that some of them got the Nobel Prize. Furthermore, their works, either in the form of books or in the films that they have inspired are still well-known to the general public.


Throughout the 19th century, eastern settlers kept spilling over into the Mississippi valley and beyond, pushing the frontier farther westward. The move westwards played a decisive influence on American civilisation and values. On the other hand, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California were obtained from war.

The period of American history from 1865 to the beginning of the 20th century is often called the “Gilded Age” since this was an expanding period both from the economic and the political point of view. Northern prosperity had suffered no severe injury in the war. A unified nation with political and religious freedom as well as economic opportunities attracted millions of inmigrants from all over Europe and led to a period of prosperity. During this time the population grew from 50 million to 76, the transcontinental railroad was completed and all the territories in the continental US were settled, ending with the “frontier”. The industry and commerce expanded all through the country thanks to the improved communications such as the railroad and the telegraph. In the North the manufactures and the steel industry prospered, in the South the cotton industry was modernised through cotton mills, and the West developed the commerce related to agriculture and cattle.

In the presidency of McKinley, which started in 1897, the US entered world politics and started their imperialistic expansion through their first offensive international operation: the war with Spain. The taking off of American imperialism responds to several factors. After the disapearance of the frontier the conviction grew that the US would have to find outlets for an ever-increasing population and agricultural and industrial production. The US had also become a great economic power and nationalistic Americans thought that they had to defend that position through military power. Furthermore, there were also the arguments of the idealists and religious leaders that Americans had a duty to carry their superior culture and Christianity to the backwards countries of the world.

As far as the First World War is concerned, the US were neutral at first, but they soon became the main source of food and arms for the Allies. Finally German attacks on unarmed American ships brought the US into the war in 1917. A large army was raised, and it was decissive for the ending of the war. However, although the Peace Conference of Paris was dominated by president Wilson’s principles, Congress was opposed to the participation of the US in international politics. As a result, the country did not even join the League of Nations or sign the Treaty of Versailles.

In the 1920’s the US lived a period of prosperity usually called The Roaring 20’s. Indsutrial production and consume rose spectacularly and most Americans enjoyed at least a modest level of confort. People started also to rebel against pre-war conventions. Women had a newly found freedom after entering the working world and having achieved the right to vote.

But this was also the time of Prohibition, established in 1919, which tried to stop drastically the consumption of alcohol. This actually gave rise to widespread illegal activities and gangsterism until it was repealed in 1933.

There was as well a revival of anti-foreign and racist feelings which brought about the reappearance of the Ku-Klux-Klan. After the pause originated by the war inmigration reached again its prewar levels. This provoked the protests of organised labour, and Congress passed restrictions on immigration limiting drastically the entrance of new inmigrants with a quota system.

The crisis of 1929 began as a stock-exchange crash, but it provoked a chain reaction that turned it into a social and political crisis worldwide. Its causes were numerous, such as the financial unbalance brought about by the war, the system of loans and credits with non-existing economic backing and the growing wave of speculation.

With the economic depression many factories closed and the US reached an unprecedented rate of unemployment. The state of poverty, discontent and delinquency affected every social sector. The unsuccessful measures taken by President Hoover for what he thought would be a short crisis brought the country into a deeper crisis since he spent all the national funds.

The next election was won by Roosevelt, who proposed a radical programme of economic measures that he called The New Deal. He proclaimed that every nation had to solve the crisis on its own, so American capital was withdrawn from Europe and imports were reduced, leading many European countries into the crisis. Other measures involved the devaluation of the dollar, the reform of the banks, and measures to reactivate the industry and the agriculture.

As far as social aspects are concerned, he had to deal with unemployment and work confllicts. However, his programme found much opposition in Congress, and many of his laws were rejected by the Supreme Court. Furthermore, the New Deal failed to bring about complete economic recovery and unemployment rate remained very high all through the 30’s and until US entry into World War II.

With the beginning of the war the isolationism of the New Deal was progressively abandoned. At first the US remained neutral, but Congress revised the Neutrality Act to allow the Allies to buy ammunitions. The question of US involvement in the war became a major issue in the 1940 ellection, in which Roosevelt went for an unprecedented third presidency. During 1941 the US moved to a more committed anti-German policy and the entry into the war was finally precipitated by the Japanese attack on the American naval base in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. The US started then equipping and training a large army, and soon they started to undertake large scale offensive operations. As we said before, the war meant a decrease in unemployment, so that full employment was reached and there was even labour shortages. A result of this shortage was that blacks made a significant economic and social progress, being accepted in jobs which were not given to them before.

During the war Roosevelt also worked to prevent a new retreat of the US into isolationism once the war was over. He had meetings with Churchill and Stalin to plan military strategy and postwar policy. Together with Churchill he started the United Nations, and he also supported the creation of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He died early in 1945, and he was succeded by his vice-president Harry Truman. Shortly after the German forces were defeated and the Japanese surrenderd after the dropping of the first two atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.